Down around the bends and turns, past the moss-draped cypress trees, and through the cloudy black water of Bayou Dimanche, the small watercraft cut their way to a small bluff. Atop that bluff stood a structure of wood and tabby. Rumored to have been used by the Lafitte Brothers in their days of smuggling goods and slaves into New Orleans, Thibodaux's private retreat served as a remote outpost when he needed to discuss matters away from prying eyes and ears. The retreat was only staffed by his most trusted menservants. Neither a lady nor any maids had darkened the door in the time Thibodaux had owned the place.
The menservants carried in crates. There was food, drink, even ice for the evening's meeting. Member's of Thibodaux's militia stood guard, rifles at the ready, in the event that unwelcome guests found their way to the retreat. It was unlikely, but but it was not worth the risk. Most importantly, men stood around fires, preparing the meal to be served shortly.
Inside the structure stood a bar, a pool table, plenty of tables and chairs. The fireplace showed the soot and char of use but remained dormant in the late summer heat. Introductions were made. Drinks were poured. Cigars were lit. The billiard balls were racked, then broken.
This was the advantage that Uriah had sought. Thibodaux was reluctant to invite Blanchard to his retreat but Uriah had insisted. The relaxed, yet secure atmosphere would ease tensions, drop walls and make for friendlier negotiations. That, and perhaps a little dirty Southern politics, was the best hope of sinking this deal and stopping Fitzgerald's plot.
There was a lot of mingling. It was a powerful group. The biggest rollers on both sides of the mill deal were here. Even the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi were present. And Uriah was working the room, shaking hands, laughing, and dropping names with a shameless and haughty air.
The food came, plenteous and glorious. Thibodaux's men prepared delicious seafood and and presented it for the guests. As the food, the drinks and the games progressed, the men sed their coats, rolled up their shirt sleeves. Thibadoux was bothered somewhat by the increasingly casual nature of the "negotiations" but Uriah had given assurances of this tactic and was making every effort to trust his friend.
That was when Uriah made his move. Gathering everyone's attention, He began with a toast. To their host, Col. Thibodaux, his hospitality, his wonderful retreat, and the opportunity to come together and discuss business in such a warm and welcoming environment. The colonel was flattered.
Everyone took a drink and then, just before anyone could return to the festivities, Uriah continued. He spoke eloquently of a threat to this way of life. He discussed the influx of foreign industry and industrialists. He spoke of a culture of urban commerce that threatened to sink the glorious hospitality of the South beneath a pile of anonymous cityscape. He spoke of the various philosophies and ideologies that their forefathers has seceded from and that those very ideas were now knocking on their doors. He spoke of robber barons, with their uncouth and presumptuous maneuvers trying to take by hook and crook what the battlefield had denied them. He rambled on, spinning a detailed and complicated web of insults and Yankee-centric xenophobia that rivaled any from The Revolution. At the end of his diatribe, he mustered what his grandfather, in an attempt to shed his possible responsibility for Uriah's temper, called his "Colquitt Choleric", slapped his hand on the table and colorfully quoted Robert Toombs, "Defend yourselves! The enemy is at your door!" he then careened on adding that their selfish grasp to the increasingly outdated use of slave labor would be the downfall of peace and independence. He noted that it would cost them trade ties in Europe and even the newly allowed trade of cotton with the old Union. It would force the South to accept the presence of factories and banks run by the Yankees "on this very soil". He cried for mechanization and the use of co-op systems that would allow former slaves to own their own small farms and produce cotton that could be traded globally. He bemoaned that any refusal to accept these reforms would result in the South being overrun by the "inferior culture from the northern city cesspools". He was shocked by his own theatrics and pleased with the facial reactions he was getting from his audience. So he made one final push again and sprinkled his closing thought with one more paraphrase from Toombs, "I have made this very plan work in Inaha. I have implemented it overseas. It works. Say what you will about my business decisions, make my name infamous, if you must, but save Georgia, save Alabama, Save Mississippi, save Louisiana. Don't turn them over to the very folks that our forefathers freed us from!"
And with that, Uriah raised his glass, took a drink and then began to mingle with the crowd again. His team spread out and began to lobby the members of the mill faction. They were prepared for the worst, ready to give answers to difficult questions and try to persuade the men to oppose the mill but it was not needed. Uriah had sold them the need to resist an invader. The men were more than happy to discuss export arrangements with Banning, Lasch, and Athern.
Fitzgerald's plan was dead.
The next evening, while sitting on Thibodaux's porch, Uriah received a memo from a man who had paddled a small vessel up to the landing. The memo was a request to accompany the man to a location that was not immediately designated. Uriah retrieved his pistol, as did Banning, Lasch, and Athern. The four men loaded the small craft and were transported to the location.
Upon arrival, a small campfire was burning. As they approached, Fitzgerald was standing behind the fire. In the circle clearing his bodyguards stood along the shadows. He nodded to them and they stepped back out of the clearing. Uriah reassured his companions and they stepped back as well.
"It seems that you have bested me in Louisiana." Fitzgerald was not smiling.
Uriah tipped back the brim on his panama hat and shoved his hands in his pockets. "It looks that way."
"And to think I stooped to offer you a generous share." Fitgerald pulled a hand-rolled cigarette from a case in his pocket. He offered Uriah one, which was graciously accepted. Then Fitzgerald lit both of them. "It probably didn't help my cause in Louisiana that the governor caught his granddaughter leaving my hotel yesterday morning", he continued as smoke blew from his mouth.
"It probably didn't help your cause."
"I don't understand what has happened. You and I were not adversaries in college."
Uriah smirked. "We weren't exactly friends either."
"That's a good point." Fitzgerald nodded and took another drag from the cigarette. "You were a hard boy to get to know. You were always too friendly with the help. You rarely came to town and when you did, it was only to catch the train to Macon or Savannah."
"Towns are overrated, Ben. You know that."
"Uriah, the day is coming, even in the Confederacy, when cities and towns will wield all the power. You've stopped this one plant, and only then because one of your little political buddies was going to benefit from it not coming. But you can't keep this up forever. you don't have a buddy in every town. Times are changing. You've won the battle but I'm going to win the war."
The conversation wound around the topic for a few minutes with Fitzgerald touting the superiority of the industrial economic model while Uriah maintained that factories only existed to make agriculture profitable, industry was the servant, not the master. "Which one can survive without the other?" being his main point.
"I didn't call you here for a debate. I called you here for a warning."
"A warning or a threat?"
"A warning. If you get between me and progress again, you're going down. And if your little Brits, your Yankee friend, or every kinky headed savage on your plantation in Georgia have to go down too, you will go down. And once you are gone, I'm going to push that house of yours over and I'm going to plant you in the root cellar and then build a smokestack over your insignificant grave."
"We've both got pistols now. Why wait?"
Fitzgerald smiled and took one last drag off his cigarette. "You'd like to duel, wouldn't you? I'm looking for a more fair fight. Much more fair. Maybe we'll meet in Inaha, maybe in London, maybe on The Alabama Princess somewhere along the Tennessee River, maybe even in a backwards village in Africa while you're visiting your little friend, Aminifu. It would be a shame for any of those good people to get entangled in our little feud, wouldn't it? " He threw the cigarette to the ground and snuffed it out with the heel of his Italian leather shoe. "Wherever you go, anywhere on this Earth, always be sure to look over your shoulder."
And then Fitzgerald smiled and disappeared into the darkness of the swamp trail. Uriah threw his cigarette in the fire and went to meet his friends.
The thought that Fitzgerald would harm any of his friends bothered Uriah that night. Stephen and Daniel were more than able to take care of themselves. But the people in Inaha, and even more so the people in Aminifu's village, had no reason to suspect trouble. There was no doubt in Uriah's mind that Fitzgerald was capable of killing all those people and never missing a night's sleep. But he didn't think preemptively killing Fitzgerald to be a good fix either. He would think on this matter.
The next afternoon he found himself in the train depot in New Orleans. He had left the colonel with gratitude for much hospitality and an open mind at the retreat. He had said goodbye to Athern at the riverboat port as he was taking the boat as far as Cairo before catching his train on to Massachusetts. Banning and Lasch took a boat the other way. They were heading back to England to finalize their end of this new deal. Uriah planned to meet up with them in Africa after the cotton harvest.
He'd seen Melanie from a distance as she was boarding the same boat as Athern. She and LeRoy were headed back up the river to Greenville. He wasn't sure that he'd ever see her again. But he hoped that somehow he would.
Uriah's train would carry him to Atlanta before he'd swap for one headed to south to Macon and eventually Inaha. He kicked back in his seat and pulled a cigar from his coat pocket. He'd stashed a handful there from the large box Thibodaux had given him as a thank you for saving the day. These were exquisite. He'd had them shipped to New Orleans from the Port of Havana just for this occasion. He knew Uriah would have a plan. Uriah lit the cigar and smiled. The waiter brought him his glass of bourbon and he took a sip.
He couldn't wait to see Georgia. It had been over a year since he'd set foot in his own house. Any of his houses for that matter. He closed his eyes and thought of home, which was, and always would be, Inaha. The cicadas would be singing in the evenings. The cotton would be tall and lush. The bolls would be getting ready but not fluffy and white yet, but soon. There would be music on his porch in the evenings. He and the other men would gather and tell stories, the youngsters would play in the yard, and the ladies would sip tea in the parlor. Everyone would want to know about Africa. He wouldn't mention Fitzgerald. No one wanted to hear about him. He'd have some of his Aunt Martha's fried pies and he'd fish in the river with Duke. He looked forward to that most of all.
He couldn't wait to see Georgia.
But that is another story....
Bayou (Part V)
"I'm so glad that Blanchard always springs for the good liquor." Fitgerald spoke as if he and Uriah were old friends or at least as if there was no animosity between their families.
"He does have some good bourbon here." Uriah was willing to play along for a while.
"Grangier always has some rot gut and swears it's the finest stuff on Earth. Then he brags 'That's how we do it in Mississippi.' as if I've never had good bourbon in Iuka or Gautier."
Uriah chuckled at that quote. He could shoot Fitzgerald between the eyes and sleep no worse for it. But he had to admit the jackass did make him laugh occasionally.
"I saw you dancing with Ms. Melanie," Fitgerald continued, "did you find it as delightful as you did before the war?"
"Melanie is a happily married woman."
"Ah, the chivalrous Galahad from the Round Table at Inaha. Don't be absurd, Uriah. Grangier is a fat moron and if he had your money, he wouldn't be drinking popskull in Greenville. And if the liquor isn't bad enough, you should see the bovines that come to his parties."
"Do you have any friends?"
"A companion, a confidant, someone you can trust or count on, someone that can count on you."
"I trust me. The rest of that crap I buy. And if I was looking for a friend, it wouldn't be someone like Grangier. In fact, I'm hoping that you and I can bury the hatchet. You're here to try to keep me from building cotton mills in the South. But I think you and I can make a lot of money in this deal. A lot of money."
"What makes you think I want to make money with you?"
"I don't think you necessarily want to make money with me but I'm betting you want to make money. And if you work with me, you'll be making money on your cotton from seed to shirt. Getting paid every step of the way. I'll deal you in. We'll split half of the enterprise and these fools will split half. Of course they'll have the more expensive half. But it's not just cotton. We're going to process sugar, tobacco, who knows what else. So you'll be making money off their fields too. Reaping where you haven't sewn, if you will."
Uriah couldn't believe his ears and he could trust Fitzgerald even less. "Why should I trust you?"
"It's a gamble, I admit. But I'm also taking a risk in trusting a guy that got most of his unit wiped out in the Argonne Forest and gets called a hero for it. You even got one of my slaves killed."
"That slave was fighting in your stead."
"Yeah, think about how bad it would have been had daddy not sent his negro instead of me. I could be dead and some goon could be running around that doesn't know how to do anything but take cotton off train cars and carry it inside a factory. Thank God daddy had some walking around sense."
Uriah's mind was transported back to the doorway of a small town in northern France. His friend Duke was sitting in the floor of a damaged house, cradling a severely wounded young black man, rocking back and forth, and singing quietly. The young man was crying and covered in blood and soot. "I wanted to live like a free man" the young man whimpered. Duke stopped singing and whispered, "You a free man now. Can't nobody take that away from you." Duke cradled the young man until he stopped whimpering, stopped crying, stopped breathing. There were no dramatic last words, no noticeable transition from the temporal to the eternal. The kid just quit breathing and his soul wasn't present anymore.
And from that flashback Uriah reawakened looking at Fitzgerald. He took a step towards his rival, grabbed him by the coat lapels and shook him. "I don't care what the skin color, social status, or any other condition of the person in question, don't you ever question the worth of a man that was in those trenches while you were over here sipping bourbon and chasing girls in front of me ever again. You understand me, don't let me hear you degrading the memory of a real man ever again."
"Or what?" Fitzgerald grinned.
"Or nothing. Just don't do it, period. Understand?"
Fitzgerald's grin became a sneer. "Let go of me, you fool. You know this is neither the time or the place for your pugilistic nonsense."
Uriah pushed Fitzgerald back on his heels and pointed his finger at him. "Don't try me."
"You don't have to say it. You think I don't know that you still have Robert Toombs' dueling pistols? I bet they're in your steamer trunk back at Arcadia. Well, I don't think I'm going to step onto the dueling grounds with you. I'm smarter than that. If you're interested in my business proposition, I need to know before you leave town. If you're not, I'll make the deal and the money without you." Fitzgerald pulled his lapels straight once again. "It's a new era, Uriah. Everything you once knew is about to fade away. You sit up here and try to drown the memory of your supposed valor in that bourbon. I'm going back to the dance. This new age makes it silly for a man of my status to leave a party without some female companionship. And Blanchard throws the best parties in Dixie."
With a wink and a click of the teeth, the smaller of the two men headed back to the mirth of the party. Uriah thought for a minute. He finished his drink, set his glass down on a tray and walked down the stairs.
Grangier was over in a corner telling stories about who knew what grandeur he had credited himself with so Uriah asked Melanie for another dance. In the course of the dance, he persuaded her to convince Leroy to accept any invitation to Thibodaux's private compound that he might receive. He assured her that there was an excellent financial outcome from such an invitation. He finished the dance with a bow, a sincere apology for the way he had disappeared years previously, and a polite kiss on the back of her hand.
His next stop was Banning. Daniel was the only one on the Thibodaux side of the issue that had the tact and the money to have the needed influence with Blanchard. "We have a better offer for him than Fitzgerald. He has to understand that. You get him to that compound or we're gonna lose this deal and lose it bad."
"We can work on my speaking after you wow Blanchard with yours. We have no time to waste."
Uriah found two more glasses of bourbon and then he found Thibodaux. "Colonel, Do you still have your hideout on Bayou Dimanche?" Then he held out one of the glasses
"Of course I do. Why?" Thibodaux replied accepting the drink.
"I have an idea."
A few years ago I stumbled upon a Ted Talk that caught my attention and got me thinking about the way we value spaces. It got me to thinking about the sorts of places that I enjoy being in as opposed to places that make me feel like eating rat poison and then jogging to make my heart beat faster so as to speed the toxins to my vital organs. And for the first time I think I realized why certain parts of town made me feel comfortable while others made me twitch nervously. If you care to watch the talk yourself, you can find it here. You are hereby warned there is profanity in it, so if such talk offends you, you might want to pass.
I want to talk about an issue in particular. But this article isn't going to be about taking a side. I just want to ask some questions. To be honest, some of them are questions for me.
There is a strip of land in Rome, Georgia that is currently being discussed as a possible site for development of apartments and retail space. There is also discussion of making it parkland that would connect the existing municipal park with one of the city's "Seven Hills".
And now the details.
The crown jewel of Rome is Broad Street. Unlike so many smaller Southern towns, this central business district is a vibrant locale where people live, work, and play. Stores, offices, restaurants, bars, all these make the second widest main street in Georgia a lively place for as much as 20 hours of the day.
Over the last several years, Broad Street, and the surrounding "Between the Rivers" historic district, have been restored, rejuvenated, and made into a beautiful and integral part of the community. It's the sort of meaningful space that people find themselves drawn to, not because it's the cheapest or only place, but because they actually want to go there.
Just a short distance up the river walk along the Oostanaula from Broad Street is Ridge Ferry Park. The river walk itself follows an old Cherokee road and eventually connects to Chieftain's Museum, former home of Cherokee Principal Chief Major Ridge, and then continues on to the home stadium of the Rome Braves, Atlanta's minor league affiliate.
This area is a wise use of flood plain and is home to concerts, festivals, disc golf, educational resources, playgrounds. It's a well-planned example of urban green space that people use regularly. Families, school field trips, a farmers market, and much more can be found here. But most importantly, it's a good place for the Oostanaula to overflow its banks when such a place is needed. The park is usable but everything there is designed to survive being under water for a spell. A river flowing downtown is a blessing, but three of them at flood stage can be a pretty heavy curse. So areas are needed to take up some of this water. Ridge Ferry helps in that role.
Overlooking the downtown area, as well as Ridge Ferry, stands Jackson Hill. Jackson teams up with Blossom, Lumpkin, Neely (Clocktower), Old Shorter, Myrtle, and Mt Aventine, to make up the seven hills from whence Rome took its name, citing the seven hills of ancient Rome. Jackson Hill is home to the civic center, the visitor information center, miles of trails to be used for hiking and mountain biking, a large flag pole that flies the US flag, as well as Ft. Norton.
Ft. Norton was built during "The War" as a defensive position to help defend Rome in the event of attack. All that remains of the fort are entrenchments that were dug over 150 years ago. The fort is the site of living history events and could serve to further historic tourism in Rome. This unique area so close to downtown was carved for war but now is a haven for nature. I myself have seen several deer at the fort, less than a mile from City Hall.
Elsewhere in town can be found the signs of modern development. Development is important because it creates jobs, helps develop the local economy, and provides goods and services to the populace. Without development, the area will stagnate and the community will die.
But what should determine the details of development? Often development becomes old, less attractive, and then deteriorates. It loses its appeal and tends to take away from the community more than it contributes. These once desired places become eyesores.
The strip of land in question isn't always land. In fact, some of it never is. Burwell Creek cuts through this strip of land as it eases its way to the Oostanaula at Ridge Ferry. In times of flood, this area is underwater long before the park goes under. Except in the driest times, the true banks of Burwell creek can be hard to distinguish from the rest of the wooded area. Developing the land for business would require rerouting the creek and filling land that currently floods.
If the land becomes parkland, as at least one independent study has suggested it should, it would connect Ridge Ferry, and therefore Broad Street, to Jackson hill as one continuous park in the downtown area.
So the questions are, should this land be developed? Should it become parkland? Should it remain a largely unused strip of woods in the middle of town? There are arguments for all three answers. But the questions I find myself asking are, if it is to be developed, what should go there? Should it have a certain caliber that would keep it from becoming a vacant eyesore in a matter of a few years? What would such a place look like? What would make such a place meaningful?
Risk vs. Reward. That is the name of the game.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire